How to build Tiger Teams for faster problem solving

Jonathan Paton 07 Dec 2023
Written by Jonathan Paton
Operations and Service Recovery

There’s a moment of realisation that we often experience in our careers.

It typically occurs during a training course or learning session, discovering that something you’ve implemented in the past - but didn’t know it at the time - has a formalised model, name, or framework, which gives more structure to the way you’d been working.

If this scenario sounds familiar, you probably followed it by thinking: “I knew that was a good idea at the time, but I wish I’d known all these other elements too. It could have been so much more powerful!”

The ‘Tiger Team’ is often responsible for one of these moments.

The BFY team have achieved exceptional results when implementing this approach for our clients, and in this blog, I’ve reflected on the key considerations that helped to drive these successes.

The ‘Tiger Team’ – What is it? And when it is valuable?

Historically you may have ‘swarmed’ or created a ‘virtual team’ of people on a tough problem, in effect dedicating a handful of resource, generally those who had a bit of spare capacity, to solve a challenge quickly through grit and dedicated focus. This is in part the mechanisms of a ‘Tiger Team’, but a real tiger team requires much more consideration.

The term itself is reasonably common, but not everyone will be familiar with it. It came about from the NASA Apollo 13 Space mission, where a group of cross functional experts were pulled together to solve a lifesaving level critical problem. The team became known as the ‘Tiger Team’.

Tiger teams break the standard ways of working in an organisation, bringing cross-functional experts together, with the aim of focusing on a specific challenge.

Generally, the team involves a small group of carefully selected people, with capabilities that cover the challenge area end-to-end. This avoids the need for widespread engagement with numerous layers of team members, which can often slow things down.

Tiger teams are ideal when you need to solve a critical challenge, and you need to do it fast. This could be a sudden spike in complaints volumes, leading to unmanageable backlogs, poor service levels for customers, and a negative impact on team morale.

A tiger team could be an ideal way of tackling this challenge, quickly covering a broad spread of linked business areas, all with the same overall goal in mind.

What can Tiger Teams achieve?

With various areas of expertise in one place, tiger teams can remove ‘hand-offs’ and the time in passing item ‘x’ to the next team in the process, who’ll carry out the subsequent steps or input critical thinking. This can all be done immediately within the team itself.

Benefits of tiger teams include:

  • Increased throughput for activities that usually require handoffs across multiple teams, reducing non-value time
  • Upskilling of elements handled outside of an area’s immediate ownership, increasing understanding of ‘why’ something already done is important for another team
  • Removal of duplication or waste, which isn’t fully understood or seen when working in a day-to-day silo’d approach
  • No delays to await decision making, as this is controlled within the team
  • Increased ESAT through sense of team spirit, driven by closer working and focus on a shared goal

How can you build an effective Tiger Team?

The most important element is being clear on the goal, and the critical areas of expertise that are required to move fast.

Key considerations when building a tiger team include:

  • What is the explicit goal to be achieved and by when? Is everyone absolutely clear on what success looks like?
  • Who needs to be involved to remove the need for external input, which could cause delays? Consider all angles to ensure every area is covered in advance.
  • Is the team going to be fully dedicated to the challenge, or will they cover their BAU activity too? Generally full focus is the ideal scenario, but where this is not possible, how is this proactively considered?
  • Consider the size. There’s no general answer and the main consideration is ensuring all areas of the challenge are covered.
  • Ensure the team has full empowerment to make the necessary decisions. This may then feed who needs to be on the team.
  • What is the clear timescale required for resolution of the problem?

In summary, tiger teams can be a real asset for solving major challenges, either during a project or in BAU.

However, it’s important that real thought and consideration is given to set things up right from the start, factoring in the various areas mentioned above to give the team the best chance of success.

At BFY we have experience of helping our clients set up and mobilise tiger teams to tackle their most disruptive challenges, with examples of critical process throughput increasing by ~150% as a result.

If you’d like to know more, please contact Jonathan Paton.

Jonathan Paton

Senior Manager

Jon specialises in Customer Operations leadership, customer contact, and operational service delivery transformation/improvement.

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